Who cuts ties with whom? Russia and the Bologna education system

June 6e, Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education Dmitry Afanasyev said that all Russian educational organizations were excluded from the Bologna process. Thus, Russia ceases to use the Bologna education system. What are the reasons, what are the possible outcomes – and what are the consequences, all of this deserves a closer look.

The Bologna system (also known as the Bologna process) was born in 1998, when education ministers from Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom launched the creation of a European Higher Education Area.[1] A year later, in the summer of 1999, 29 countries (16 – EU Member States) signed the Joint Declaration of European Ministers of Education.[2] As happened at a conference in Bologna (Italy), and this is the place where the oldest university of the same name in Europe is located (founded in 1088), hence the name of the system. The main objective of the initiative was to create a framework within the European educational area with the free mobility of students and teachers, as well as to increase the competitiveness of European universities in the world. Subsequently, the number of participants was increased to 49…[3]

And then the most interesting thing begins.

Dmitry Afanasyev’s statement is the logical conclusion of a process that began in May this year: May 17e, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs and new leader of the LDPR faction Leonid Slutsky, as well as Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Peter Tolstoy, called for the abolition of the education system from Bologna in Russia. And if the vice-president’s remarks were relatively neutral, saying that “today’s education system does not meet the needs of the times – many experts and colleagues speak of the need to get out of the Bologna system and return to the traditional Russian education system”,[4] Leonid Slutsky expressed himself more emotionally, comparing the Bologna system to “an experiment to deceive young people”.[5] According to him, “Russia cannot be taken by any of the most modern weapons. Our country is currently a world leader in this field. But they can try to weaken us from within by lowering the level of education of our young people and by shifting the accent on the system of values. This is the very dangerous technique that the Western collective intended to use through the importation of the education system from Bologna to Russia”.[6]

However, it turned out that Russia (and Belarus, which again got its share of good relations with the Russian Federation), were excluded from the Bologna process at the April meeting of the Monitoring Group of Bologna (BFUG).[7] It is impossible not to note the “elegance” of the speech used in the minutes of the meeting: for example, in section 4 it is noted that “the statement also urges the BFUG to suspend the representation rights of the Russian Federation in the BFUG, as well as any country assisting the Russian Federation in its invasion of Ukraine”, and section 6 directly states who these “are. all countries ” – ” the resulting statement asks the BFUG to suspend the rights of representation of the Russian Federation and all countries (Belarus) that intend to support it in this invasion of Ukraine”.[8] And here the logical question arises: what good is all this pun, if everyone already knows which country supports Russia?

At the same time, one more fact should be noted: despite the suspension of the membership of Russia and Belarus, the Group is still interested in data on these countries, which was also reflected in the trial- minutes of the meeting – “the BFUG board must also take a position on the missing data in the reports of the Russian Federation and Belarus following their suspension, with EQAR confirming that information on these countries is no longer available on their website. Finally, it was decided to continue the discussion on the collection of data on the Russian Federation and Belarus at the next meeting of the BFUG board”.[9] On the one hand, it would seem strange – why do it, but on the other hand, it is quite a logical decision, since events in Ukraine will end sooner or later, and something will have to be done in terms of cooperation ( if , of course, there will be an opportunity to restore it).

Thus, it becomes clear what Dmitry Afanasyev, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education and Science, expressed in his speech – “I would say that it is the Bologna system that has left us, and not that we ‘have left’.[10]

Of course, the exit from the Bologna system did not go unnoticed by anyone – it was a low blow for graduates, current students and their parents who are worried about the future of their children. Academic and political circles also had their share of discussions. However, according to the SuperJob survey, 66% of Russians supported the rejection of the Bologna system: the majority were respondents over 45 and Russians with higher education (72% and 73% respectively).[11] That is, these people are those who felt the influence of the system on themselves, or those who had the opportunity to compare it with the previous system.

It should be noted here that not everything is so perfect with the implementation of the Bologna system in Russia. Introduced in 2003, it has only been partially adapted. Thus, alongside the two-stage system (bachelor + master or “4+2”), Russia still pursues training in a specialist degree (“специалитет”) (5-6 year program); credit system (ECTS) known in all European universities, in Russia is still used with the traditional 5-point assessment system, etc. In addition, some experts believe that the system is too narrowly specialized and excludes the study of certain Soviet courses, especially in engineering specialties.

Another point worthy of attention is student mobility, a feature of the Bologna system that is highly valued in Europe; however, the volume of academic mobility from and to Russia, although possible, is not so high, as there are a number of difficulties associated with it. As Sergey Stepashin, President of the Association of Russian Lawyers, noted, “Let’s be honest: some of our Russian universities have not been recognized abroad. The results of the studies were not recognised, there was no transfer in ECTS/credits, as was the case in other countries participating in the Bologna process. On the one hand, this has reduced the mobility potential of Russian students. On the other hand, commenting on the situation with the exit, we can say that the exit from the Bologna process will not add problems: there was no academic mobility developed with the main European universities before that”.[12]

Someone can say that the situation is really difficult and the withdrawal puts an end to the future of young professionals. HSE Professor Irina Abankina, for example, believes that “the Bologna system works to make education relevant for the modern labor market, with the possibility of rapid dissemination of practices, with academic exchanges. To destroy this system now and leave it means condemning oneself to complete isolation and non-recognition”.[13]

However, education is not limited to the Bologna system and the world is not limited to Europe. So, again referring to the words of Sergey Stepashin, “most of our universities worked and work within the framework of bilateral agreements – we are talking about double degrees, when students study part of the year in Russia and the ‘other abroad. I think that the withdrawal from the Bologna process will not affect these programs in any way: they were managed manually anyway”.[14] Thus, student mobility, if any, will suffer, but only to a small extent. And the head of the Ministry of Education and Science Valery Falkov suggested looking at the situation from the perspective of the prospects that are opening up for national education: “we understand that we must look to the future with pragmatism , without destroying what has been done. Without denying the previous step. We have to make the most of it and move forward. The modernization of national education should not be perceived as its isolation. The United States, China, India and many other countries were not and are not part of the Bologna system, which does not prevent them from recognizing other educations and successfully developing their own” .[15]

The situation also deserves to be examined from the point of view of international relations. Since the start of the events in Ukraine, relations between Russia and the West have begun to deteriorate rapidly, while Asia, Africa and Latin America have tried to remain neutral. The strengthening of Russophobic ideas led to the fact that Russian students began to transfer to domestic universities.[16] Despite the fact that the numbers are small and the cases themselves are individual, they also have an impact on the bigger picture. What will happen if a dozen students decide to study in Asia rather than Europe? What if a hundred? Or a thousand? Whether we like it or not, the state will have to listen to their opinion, because they are future specialists, those who will work for the benefit of the state. And if Europe begins to push Russia even further away from itself, later it risks being faced with the fact that the “pivot to the East”, which has been everywhere for several years now, is in full swing. Because young people are building our future, and if you show them a biased attitude now, then you shouldn’t be surprised at the consequences.

As they say, as you sow, you will reap.


[1] http://www.ehea.info/page-sorbonne-declaration-1998

[2] http://www.ehea.info/page-ministerial-conference-bologna-1999

[3] http://www.ehea.info/page-full_members

[4] https://tass.ru/obschestvo/14649511

[5] https://ria.ru/20220518/obrazovanie-1789215928.html

[6] https://ria.ru/20220518/obrazovanie-1789215928.html

[7] http://www.ehea.info/page-bfug-meeting-80

[8] http://www.ehea.info/Upload/BFUG_FR_AZ_80_Minutes%20of%20meeting.pdf

[9] http://www.ehea.info/Upload/BFUG_FR_AZ_80_Minutes%20of%20meeting.pdf

[10] https://russian.rt.com/russia/article/1011967-bolonskii-process-rossiya

[11] https://ria.ru/20220411/obrazovanie-1782847809.html

[12] https://mel.fm/zhizn/razbor/7689514-vykhod-iz-bolonskoy-obrazovatelnoy-sistemy-chto-eto-znachit-dlya-rossii-i-pri-chem-tut-yege

[13] https://www.mk.ru/social/2022/03/17/eksperty-rasskazali-k-chemu-privedet-otkaz-ot-bolonskoy-sistemy-obrazovavaniya.html

[14] https://mel.fm/zhizn/razbor/7689514-vykhod-iz-bolonskoy-obrazovatelnoy-sistemy-chto-eto-znachit-dlya-rossii-i-pri-chem-tut-yege»

[15] https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/5381815

[16] https://russian.rt.com/russia/article/976762-studenty-zarubezhnye-vuzy-perevod